Wake Ed

Wake County school board debates equity of restoring magnet status to Broughton and Daniels

Depending on who you ask, the Wake County school board’s decision to restore magnet status to Broughton High School and Daniels Middle School will either promote equity or worsen it in the school system.

As noted in today’s article, equity was brought up multiple times during Tuesday’s board meeting as the board weighed whether to remagnetize both Inside-the-Beltline Raleigh schools. There wasn’t any dispute that magnetizing the immersion programs at Hodge Road Elementary in Knightdale and Raleigh’s Jeffreys Grove and Stough elementary schools would provide equity by allowing students around the county to attend.

But when it came to Broughton and Daniels, it was less clear.

School administrators told the board that demagnetizing both schools in 2008 has led to declines in test scores and graduation rates as neighborhood students have opted to go to private schools, charter schools and magnet schools. They’ve also cited the increase in the poverty rates at both schools with Broughton’s percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches being at 36 percent compared to the district average of 33 percent. It’s 41 percent at Daniels compared to the district average of 37 percent.

During public comment, Broughton parent Franklin Roberts talked about having been at the school since 2001.

“Since Broughton has lost its magnet, we have seen firsthand the declining enrollment and graduation rates which have created an unhealthy and unstable environment at Broughton High School,” Roberts told the board.

Roberts also brought up the economic aspects of remagnetizing Broughton.

“As a small business owner, I have numerous clients that have invested significantly in the entertainment, residential and technology sectors of downtown Raleigh,” Roberts said. “And these clients repeatedly tell me that downtown Raleigh needs a healthy public high school to support future growth and investment.”

Roberts concluded by noting how the Broughton community has consistently supported public education. IRS tax records show that, as of June 2013, the Broughton Capital Foundation had $738,167 in net assets. Tax records also show that the parent-teacher associations of Broughton and Daniels had net assets of $97,358 and $59,002, respectively.

“The Broughton community has always supported the public education system in Wake County and this new magnet status would certainly only enhance that support,” Roberts said.

During the board discussion, school board member Jim Martins said he was frustrated that the board was being asked to vote two weeks before the magnet school fair. He said the vote should have been brought up three-to-six months ago after a comprehensive review of the magnet program that hasn’t been undertaken yet.

Martin, who wasn’t on the board in 2008, said he didn’t agree with the prior board’s decision to demagnetize Broughton and Daniels. But he questioned the decision to remagnetize now in light of the equity issues the board has been discussing among the 171 schools.

“We have a lot of discussions about equity across the district and in terms of the free-and-reduced lunch numbers or whatever we want to use as a metric, I can’t look at Daniels and Broughton and see them as terribly close to our highest needs schools,” Martin said. “Where’s our conversation of equity there?”

Martin said he agreed with the decision to magnetize the three existing immersion schools and to offer those students a feeder in a few years when they leave elementary school. But Martin said he felt the need to explain why he was abstaining from the magnet vote, which would still officially be recorded as a yes.

“I’m troubled that we’re making a part of a decision in the context of a need for a very careful, comprehensive review to make sure that we have a strong and healthy magnet program,” Martin said. “That we have strong and healthy programs across all of our system’s schools so that we don’t just be perceived as, you know, giving some people benefits and not other people benefits. We’ve got to have that comprehensive study, evaluation and I don’t feel like we have done that.”

But school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said remagnetizing Broughton and Daniels is a case of promoting equity because of the money spent over the years when they were magnets. Daniels has been demagnetized twice by prior boards.

“I think it brings equity to the fact that we have Daniels and Broughton, where we’ve already made some investments and then gone backwards on them,” Kushner said. “We’ve made investments again and gone backwards on them. This brings stability to two very key schools in the school district.”